PS Review of Freemasonry

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voltaire writing
"If this is the best of all possible worlds, what are the others?"
- Voltaire, Candide, Chapter 6
Bro. Gerald Reilly
Summer 2007

by Bro. Gerald Reilly

The scene: a dowager duchess is in the process of investigating the suitability of a young man; a Masonic playwright places upon her lips the words, “Are you from the purple of commerce or have you risen from the ranks of the aristocracy?” Surely, a no more stunning enquiry has ever emanated from the English mother tongue.   


Just why those in the emerging mother Grand Lodge of England assumed that it would be led by blood royals indicates that perhaps they knew something that we do not. Hopefully, academics and conspiracy theorists may, in their different ways, point to an enlightened interpretation.  


Perhaps as the UGLE has the benefit of royal leadership, it might be interesting to consider what is coming down from “the ranks”.


In providing guidelines for the interviewing of petitioners, there is a royal exhortation to “….explain our Freemasonry in a way that fits the twenty-first century and why it will be relevant to the candidate.  That will allow us a better chance of competing for his leisure time, his finances and his intellectual stimulation.”


Hmmm! are we clear on the manner by which Freemasonry, as it is, can fit into this century in a way that is relevant? The term “competing” is perhaps worrying. With whom, or with what might Freemasonry be competing and on what basis? If Freemasonry is perceived to be competing with say the golf club or Rotary, perhaps its nature is being inadequately defined. If it is being suggested that Freemasonry’s benefits can be found, comparably, elsewhere, this might indicate both a serious understatement of its theory and an underachievement in its practice. 


It has been suggested from “the ranks” that, “… Freemasonry plays an important role in the life of the individual member and his journey of self discovery.”  This is perhaps more encouraging. The concept of the “individual” is underpinned by our rationality; that is to say, we are socially produced yet have the potential to manage our nature and challenge our nurture. As heirs of the Enlightenment we have an enlightened self-interest; the cable tow, the length of which, being the measure of our progress in interdependence with others in the acquisition of food, clothing and shelter - the primary social goods. Vitally, it is the concept of the individual that presages responsibility and accountability. It is upon this rock that Freemasonry takes its rise and from whence the journey begins; but, for what purpose?


The metaphor of “life’s journey” is worthy and central to “living the life”, masonically speaking. The terms, “self discovery” and “daily progress” are romantic descriptions of education. That is to say, life is a learning process; what sort of day is it in which we haven’t learned something? But, what is all this for, why is a journey of education taken at all? The idea that Freemasonry is to make “good men better” can be considered to be offensive and a serious understatement. Freemasonry is too important to be restricted to the male of the species; it is surely there for any person who seeks a life of continuous improvement. And, this continuous improvement is not for selfish reasons – far from it. The Freemason seeks individual improvement in order that the world and the lives thereby touched, are thereby embettered. Indeed, if there is a Freemason by whose life the world is not improved the view must be taken that that Freemasonry lacks the breath of life and is an unconvincing veneer. This has been an enduring theme on some Masonic e-lists for some time. It is also the mantra of the GL of California. 0h how encouraging!  


It is appreciated that a few grand words on a grand occasion may not be the opportunity to launder a PhD; however, surely it is reasonable to expect that the words uttered on such occasions would be more than tabloidish sound-bytes. Suggesting that in the contemporary world that, “high standards of public and private life are regarded as an anachronism” is unhelpful. Morality is relative to human needs, possibilities and capabilities: therefore it can only be about, humans as they are and laws as they might be. Perhaps the view can be taken that moral leadership has not always emanated from the aristocracy. 


It was most unfortunate that these grand words continued “….that our Masonic principles have enormous relevance, and without attaching them to a particular cause….” O contraire, unattached principle is the apotheosis of irrelevance. There is much evidence to suggest that Freemasons have trod the barricades of serious political change. That is to say, when the tectonic plates of human structure impacted, Freemasons took direct political action along the fault lines of the status quo. It is the case that greater consideration is required to understand the relationship between Masonic principles and the political activity of Freemasons, especially when on the “barricades”.


Surely, Freemasons must be human beings of whom it can be said that they are thinking and caring people. If that is the case, they will not be aware of the three great, universal/global problems that currently face humankind. They are, (i) the collapse of the planet’s eco-systems; (ii) the threat to human survival caused by wars; and, (iii) the substantial levels of poverty around the globe. 


To be relevant, our Masonic principles must be connected to these three issues or we do not exist in any meaningful way as an option to the golf club or Rotary. There is the problematic of globalism and organisations seeking to apply global solutions; but, unless managed, they could degenerate into a bureaucracy cum tyranny. Genuine political entities must be united, not in structures but in understandings of cooperation to thereby address the global problems. However, there has to be connectivity with people, as they are, in their localities and townships. People, where they are, must be able to believe that they have some connection with the identification of both problems and solutions.


Where these people are, so must the lodge be also. We are not competing for leisure time; we are proponents of quality universal space and time. Who better than Freemasons to be at the heart of the community and provide the leadership in addressing, at the local level, the global problems? We are on a journey of survival and should be bringing people along with us, a veritable ark of rescue and refuge, until we can bring about the subsidence of the waters that threaten to inundate us all.


Yes, for globalism read Freemasonry universal. When it comes to the purple of commerce it is from where most freemasons have taken there rise. Most Freemasons have risen through its ranks and sought a fairer distribution of goods and services produced through the purple of commerce.  And, with vision in the ranks of participatory citizenship, humans can create solutions to the problems they have created in the first place. Freemasons and their values must be connected to and sustain these processes, manning the barricades and providing inspirational leadership. Remembering, that you heard it here first, this linkage of Freemasons thinking universally and acting locally could perhaps be known as Masonic “glocalism”. That may be perceived as something like connected relevance.      


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